SXSW 2024 Review: DORY PREVIN: ON MY WAY TO WHERE, Waking Up, Slowly

Julia Greenberg and Dianna Dilworth direct a music-doc about a singular singer and songwriter who needed to wake up to her own talent.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
SXSW 2024 Review: DORY PREVIN: ON MY WAY TO WHERE, Waking Up, Slowly

Sometimes it's the words, even more than the music, that makes a song carve its way into your memory.

Dory Previn: On My Way to Where
The film enjoyed its world premiere at SXSW 2024. Visit the film's official site for more information.

If your personal musical preferences veer toward the harsh, angular, and angry, rather than the soft, gentle, and insightful, Dory Previn's career may have escaped you.

Her name rang a bell in my mind from her time as a lyricist on classic MGM musicals in the 1950s and 60s, often in collaboration with her songwriting partner, Andre Previn. A new documentary by Julia Greenberg and Dianna Dilworth starts from that era, when Dory Previn grew steadily in recognition among her peers, earning three Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song, including "Come Saturday Morning" from The Sterile Cuckoo (1969), a song I know well.

What I didn't know is that she flamed out around that time, burned by her husband departing their marriage for another (much more famous) woman, leading to a multi-month stay in a hospital. That, in turn, led to a much better situation for her.

Entries from Dory Previn's private journals are read with warmth and empathy by J. Smith-Cameron (Succession and many others), as her written expressions are brought to vivid life through animated illustrations by Emily Hubley. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Dory dealt with her issues by writing about them. She'd always been a wordsmith, so she approached various composers to write music to accompany her lyrics, who declined because her words did not sound like 'pop songs.'

Thus began her career as a celebrated singer-songwriter in the 1970s, which is exquisitely framed and presented in a wonderfully absorbing portrait that seeks to capture the artist's singular artistic sensibility. Directors Julia Greenberg and Dianna Dilworth use the traditional tools of documentary filmmakers -- archival footage, photos, talking-head interviews -- and dress it up with the aforementioned animated images, and lyrics that dance and flutter around the screen, buttressed by supple narration.

That's all well and good, but what pushes the film above the expected is that they, together with editor Jen Mackie, do not follow a strict chronological storyline. Instead, they keep things gently off-balance by introducing Dory Previn's mental health as a fundamental element in her existence. They suggest that her acceptance of her condition fueled her creative fires, which never dimmed throughout her life.

Rather than stigmatize or demonize Dory Previn, they seek to showcase how she overcame the challenges she faced and produced many indelible songs that illuminated the human condition. My personal musical preferences slew toward the harsh and angular sounds of youth, but this film made me intensely curious about Dory Previn's gentle musical artistry and her sharp insights into, well, everything.

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Dianna DilworthDory PrevinJulia GreenbergSXSW 2024

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